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6 things people look for in a new job

Published 18th October 2017 by Investors in People
Mug saying "It's time for a new job"

Everyone is an individual and therefore the reasons they leave jobs and accept others are enormously varied.

These reasons do fit into broad themes and it’s these themes organisations generally try to understand when looking to improve attraction and retention. But to really make a difference, organisations must understand the variation within these themes.

To help you on your way, we’ve pulled together six themes and provided an overview of how the variation within the theme can present.

An improvement in financial position (or part of it)

While everyone looks to improve their financial position, they won’t all focus on the same area. Many people, of course, move jobs for a bigger salary as they get mortgages and greater financial responsibility.

But it’s not always about salary. Those looking at retirement planning may move into the public sector to benefit from higher pension contributions. Meanwhile, parents may move jobs to access financial benefits - such as death-in-service cover and critical illness cover - that help guarantee long-term financial wellbeing for themselves and their families.

A greater (or lesser) sense of purpose or meaning

People will move jobs when they feel their work isn’t making a difference to the organisation or when they don’t feel the values and purpose of the organisation are worthwhile.

Many will move to organisations that are intrinsically socially or morally purposeful e.g. a not-for-profit or charity. Those already working in these areas may make a sideways move to a different purpose-driven organisation, perhaps one that ties in with another of their passions.

It’s important to point out that purpose-driven does not always refer to socially-defined moral or ethical standards.

At the other end of the spectrum, those who have worked for purpose-driven organisations for a while may be looking to reduce the sense of meaning they get from their work (either for wellbeing, if they’re suffering from compassion fatigue, or to try their skills in a more commercial arena).

It’s important to point out that purpose-driven does not always refer to socially-defined moral or ethical standards. It can come down to what the employee perceives to be purposeful, which can be strongly driven by individual belief.

Adjustments to their lifestyle

Within this theme, the most frequently-cited reason is to improve work-life balance, for example when someone wants to ‘take their foot off the pedal’ and have more free time to focus on family or personal activities.

However, people move jobs for other lifestyle adjustments, such as reducing commuting time or changing the type of commute (from cognitively-intensive methods like driving to less cognitively-taxing methods like public transport).

Others may actively seek out more stressful jobs, for example because their existing job just doesn’t offer them the fast-paced environment they crave.

Finally, people may move jobs within the same industry but dial down or up the responsibility they have. A salesperson could move from a smaller company (where they may be responsible for building their sales pipeline) to a larger company (where prospects are validated and prepared by a pre-sales team) in order to reduce the amount of hours they spend on the road or working outside of core hours.

For this theme, the key takeaway is that the individual’s existing lifestyle isn’t appropriate to a chronic or acute need and therefore they want to move jobs in order to address this shortcoming.

Better line management relationship

There’s a common phrase - “people leave managers, not companies.” It is, of course, impossible to generalise because people do leave companies, but it’s true that negative line management experiences are disproportionately damaging to an individual’s enjoyment of work. This is because the line manager is so visible and influential in the individual’s daily working experience.

Most people would move on if their line manager was demeaning or bullying, but not all issues are so clear cut. For example, someone may think a line manager is generally good, but insufficiently challenging to allow personal and career development. Or they may feel the manager doesn’t involve them in decisions and therefore want a job with a manager more committed to co-creation with the team.

Career (or skills) development

People look for different types of career development in a job. They may focus purely on increasing their level of seniority in the technical application of their skills or on the scope and complexity of their line management responsibilities. Or they will focus on a mixture of both.

In some cases, they may actually take a less-suitable position based on other factors (such as lifestyle) because the leap in seniority would be hard to come by without this compromise.

People like to feel in control of their lives and jobs can take away or reinforce a feeling of control in a variety of ways.

This highlights that when people choose to take a new job, they may make decisions misaligned with their long-term desires and needs if the short-term pay-off is valuable enough.

Some people may also move to develop specific skills, rather than to take a more senior position. A good example of this is in software development, where someone could move to another position to gain experience in a programming language missing from their existing skills in order to develop a more varied and impressive portfolio of skills.

Greater control or perception of control

People like to feel in control of their lives and jobs can take away or reinforce a feeling of control in a variety of ways. Flexible working policies that allow staff to adjust working hours to suit their personal lives afford significant control and some people may move jobs solely because their working hours are too rigid.

But there are other types of control too, for example control over daily tasks. Line manager skill makes a difference here; micro-managers who don’t give individuals autonomy in how they achieve tasks may unwittingly be pushing out staff who crave greater control over their workload.

Some people are prepared to sacrifice short-term control for long-term control when looking for a new job. They may choose a stable career path that offers a clear route to seniority and high pay (long-term control) within a high-pressure work environment defined by clear expectations around working patterns (lack of short-term control).